World

Airlines were seeing a rebound in travel ahead of Omicron’s arrival.

The discovery of the Omicron variant comes at a delicate time for an airline industry that was just beginning to rebound.

The question is whether the new variant of the coronavirus will deter travelers, as the Delta variant did this summer.

Several nations, including the United States, have banned visitors from South Africa and a handful of neighboring countries. Japan, Morocco and Israel have banned all incoming foreign visitors, while the Philippines has banned visitors from southern Africa and several European countries.

The recovery in international travel has been slower than it has been in the United States. President Biden’s decision to ease long-standing restrictions on foreign travelers this month promised to spur that rebound. It is not yet known how or if the Omicron variant will affect travel demand, but if travel bans proliferate and concerns about the variant continue to spread, hopes of an accelerated international rebound may be dashed again.

Only two American carriers, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, leave southern Africa. Both said they do not yet have plans to adjust their schedules in response to the administration’s ban, which takes effect Monday and does not apply to U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. Delta operates three weekly flights between Atlanta and Johannesburg. United operates five flights a week between Newark and Johannesburg, and did not change plans to restart flights between Newark and Cape Town on Wednesday. None of the countries that announced the new travel restrictions are a major source of business for US carriers.

No major US airline has announced substantial procedural changes due to the variant. And all passengers flying to the United States must provide proof of a negative coronavirus test, with non-citizens also required to be fully vaccinated.

In the United States, air travel has almost recovered, although many companies are still reluctant to send employees on business trips. The number of people screened at airport security checkpoints over the past week fell only 10% from the same week in 2019, according to the Transportation Security Administration. And the industry successfully overcome the crush of travelers, avoiding the disruptions that have lasted for several days at some airlines in recent months.


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